Twinkle twinkle

If I think too hard about how my habits, decisions, traditions and routines might ultimately impact my kids, I can get really bogged down in my own head. It is a bit overwhelming. Like attempting to wrap my mind around the size of the universe, trying to really grasp the impact our families of origin have on us stretches my brain to its breaking point. It is the sort of contemplation that is probably generally best left to poets, or astrophysicists.

(Who sometimes have a lot in common, by the way).

Even too much positive thinking about your own influence can be detrimental. If I focus on the amazing possibilities we are giving our boys, I can wind up thinking, we are totally rockin’ this parenthood thing. Inevitably, those are the precise moments when I will hear something crash, or someone scream, or – worst of all – an eery silence will descend and I will know with absolute certainty that somewhere (most likely deep in Kyle’s closet), something poisonous is being thoroughly explored by a toddler and a preschooler, who lately have gotten the hang of working in cahoots.  Continue reading

The stuff of legends

Childhood is where we we learn the myths that on some level will be with us for the rest of our lives. We find our heroes, our monsters, our magical friends. We discover the ancient stories of our families, and we create new ones.

And then there are those mystical, monumental structures, built powerful and large in our families’ kitchens, destined to stand for eternity. Yes, you guessed it: I’m talking about our personal food pyramids.

Personal food pyramids are not the old grains-on-the-bottom government lore of yesteryear. Rather, they are individual, mostly subconscious, rarely given much thought. Case in point: I have never ever for even a minute identified as a vegetarian. But I was raised by a vegetarian mom, and so in many ways I eat like a vegetarian. I can’t help it. Oh, I’ll eat meat and even cook it. But it is not my first thought, not my initial orientation to a meal. Meat is not the base of my food pyramid.

My husband, on the other hand, comes from Pennsylvania, from German and Scottish and possibly Dutch stock, and from a family of proud meat eaters, beer drinkers, and pretzel crunchers. Through our near-decade together I have come to learn that where Kyle grew up, meat-ish items are considered to be the broad base of the ancient, sacred food pyramid. The middle layers, best I can tell, are made up of assorted dumplings, anything pickled, and pie of either the whoopie or shoo fly varieties. The top, of course, is the afore-mentioned beer and pretzels.

Kyle, who loves all food except blueberries and olives, has happily embraced the cuisine of his new homeland. With admirable gusto he eats sushi, artichokes, Meyer lemons and avocados, and burritos have a very special place in his heart. I, for my part, try to bring the tastes of Kyle’s youth – his soul foods, and the tastes of my kids’ paternal family history – to our kitchen whenever I can.

Pizza is one of those soul foods for Kyle. I like making pizza, because it is kid-friendly, quick, and surprisingly healthy. It helps that my mother-and-father-in-law got us a pizza stone and pizza cutter, many eons ago when we first co-habitated. (I cannot remember what the occasion was, but honestly with Bob and Sandy there needn’t be an occasion for them to send an awesome package winging its way to us). It also helps to have a super-easy pizza crust recipe that I make in my food processor (also a Bob and Sandy gift).

Now admittedly, this particular pizza is pretty California-ed up. It might not fit in too well on the ancient Pennsylvania food pyramid, and it lacks some of the sacred pizza elements (red sauce, lots of cheese, meat … ).  But in Kyle’s family’s pyramid – well, Bob and Sandy are foodies, and veggie lovers, and adventurers. I think they would love this one. And really, it’s because of them and their excellent gifts – the pizza stone, the food processor, the love of my life – that I make this pizza at all.

Pizza with Ricotta-Chard Cream, Caramelized Onions, Roasted Apples and Asparagus (The Bob and Sandy Special)
I found the original inspiration for this pizza about a year ago, here, in the New York Times Recipes for Health column. That alone should tell you that it is not your traditional pizza! The caramelized onions are terrific here on their own – but I find that piling up the veggies, and the occasional fruit, makes this one even better. Try making your own ricotta, and see what your veggie drawer is itching to get rid of – any vegetable that tastes good roasted is a possibility here. If one of your chosen veggies needs more than fifteen minutes to roast, just roast it part-way on its own before topping and baking the pizza. Bonus: an easy, healthy, food processor pizza dough recipe is down below the recipe for the pizza itself. 

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large onion, sliced
6 ounces mushrooms, sliced

1 large bunch chard (~ 8 ounces), stemmed and washed
3/4 cup ricotta cheese (6 ounces)
2-3 tablespoons parmesan cheese
1 egg yolk

1 14-inch pizza crust (see dough recipe below)

1 small apple, thinly sliced
6-8 asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
Optional: additional ricotta, mozzarella, gorgonzola, or other cheese

At least half an hour before you plan to bake the pizza, preheat the oven to 500 degrees, with your pizza stone inside.

While the oven is heating, heat the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet. Add the onions. Cook, stirring often, until tender and just beginning to color, about 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and a generous pinch of salt. Turn the heat to low, cover and cook for 20 more minutes, stirring occasionally. The onions should be golden brown and very sweet, and the mushrooms should have softened and browned and released their juices. Turn off the heat and leave covered until ready to use.

While the onions are cooking, chop the chard into ribbons and put it in the bowl of your food processor. Add the ricotta, egg yolk, and parmesan. Whir in the food processor until it resembles creamy pesto (see photo above of the ricotta-chard mixture spread over the unbaked pizza crust).

Roll out the dough, then (carefully!) remove your pizza stone and put the dough on the pan. Spread the ricotta mixture over the pizza dough in an even layer, leaving a 1-inch border around the rim. Spread the onions and mushrooms over the ricotta mixture, then put the apple slices and asparagus pieces over that. (Add the additional cheese over top if you’d like).

Place in the hot oven, and bake 10 to 15 minutes until the crust and bits of the veggies and apples are nicely browned. (Note: the dough recipe is meant to bake at 450 F, but 500 F works here and gets you a nice browned crust, well-roasted veggies, and a ricotta-chard cream that sets up almost like an egg dish – yum)

Makes 8 nice-sized slices.

UPDATE 5/4/2012: Pizza with Ricotta-Arugula Cream, Caramelized Onions, and Parmesan-Crusted Chicken
We made this version last night, and I had to share!

1 tablespoon canola oil
3 sweet onions, sliced

15-20 large arugula leaves (from an older plant), stemmed and washed
3/4 cup ricotta cheese (6 ounces)

1 14-inch pizza crust (see dough recipe below)

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, poached in your favorite poaching liquid
3 tablespoons fresh-grated parmesan

At least half an hour before you plan to bake the pizza, preheat the oven to 500 degrees, with your pizza stone inside.

While the oven is heating, heat the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet. Add the onions. Cook, stirring often, until tender and just beginning to color, about 10 minutes. Turn the heat to low, add a pinch of salt, cover and cook for 20 more minutes, stirring occasionally. The onions should be golden brown and very sweet. Turn off the heat and leave covered until ready to use.

While the onions are cooking, chop the arugula into ribbons and put it in the bowl of your food processor. Add the ricotta. Whir in the food processor until it resembles creamy pesto. (If you need to loosen it up a little, add a teaspoon of water or canola oil).

Slice the poached chicken breasts into pieces. If you’d like, toss the pieces with some  seasoning (I used lemon zest and black pepper).

Roll out the dough, then (carefully!) remove your pizza stone and put the dough on the pan. Spread the ricotta mixture over the pizza dough in an even layer, leaving a 1-inch border around the rim. Spread the onions over the ricotta mixture, then put the chicken slices over that. Sprinkle the parmesan over top, making sure each piece of chicken gets a good dusting with the cheese.

Place in the hot oven, and bake 15 minutes or until the crust and parmesan are nicely browned.

Makes 8 nice-sized slices.

Easy-Peasy Pizza Dough
This dough is also based on a New York Times Recipe for Health. The mostly-whole-grain pizza crust has a nice, wheat-y flavor and more nutrition than most pizzas. Using a bit of all-purpose flour keeps it from being heavy or dry. The crispiness vs doughiness of the crust will depend largely on how thin you roll it out – a 12 inch pizza will be doughier, while a 14 inch pizza will be crisper (Kyle’s preference, and our usual). This makes enough for two pizzas. 

Note to parents: this is also a nice quick dough to make on a rainy day if your kids feel like baking bread but you don’t really have time for a second rise. Just substitute bread flour for the all-purpose flour – you can let them form the dough into letters, shapes, or cookie-cutter creations, and then bake them for ten minutes at 450 for chewier results or 500 for crisper ones. 

2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup warm (body temperature is good) water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 3/4 cups stone ground whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (plus more for kneading)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

Combine the yeast and water in a liquid measuring cup. Add the sugar, stir together, and let sit 2-3 minutes, until the yeast is dissolved. Stir in the olive oil.

Combine the flours and salt in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse a few times to combine, and then with the machine running pour in the liquid mixture. Process until the a dough forms on the blades (it will ball up around them). Remove from the processor and knead on a lightly floured surface, adding flour as needed. In three or four minutes you should have a smooth dough.

Shape the dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and leave it in a warm spot to rise for about an hour. It should double in size and stretch when pulled.

Divide the dough into two equal balls, cover, and leave them to rest for fifteen minutes. At this point they are ready to roll out and bake, or they will keep in the fridge for a few days – wrap them loosely in lightly oiled plastic wrap and then refrigerate in a plastic bag. (If you do this, then when you are ready to roll out the crust just bring the dough to room temperature first).

Bake on a preheated pizza stone at 450 F, for 10-15 minutes, with desired toppings. (Or, see pizza recipe above).

One fish two fish red fish … green fish

(Yes, that’s a Dr. Seuss reference – I am continuing with the children’s literature theme for today :)

This is a quick post about a quick fish! I am not much of a wine drinker, but I am a sucker for white wine reductions. Herby ones with a kiss of butter are best of all.

This is my quick, “dirty” version of a delicate herbed white wine cream sauce. It is layered, but those layers are built quickly. The whole thing comes together in just a few minutes – enough time for you to oven-roast a pan of asparagus and slice some nice crusty bread for sauce-sopping. Tonight we added a salad of spring greens with apples, gorgonzola, almonds and cranberries. But really, for me, the sauce and the bread (and okay, the fish) would have been enough.

Use a nice white wine – it certainly needn’t be fancy, but should definitely be drinkable. You only use half a cup of wine in the sauce, so that leftover bottle will be at the table for dinner – make it tasty, and have a nice weekend.

Cheers!

Fish in Quick and Easy Herbed White Wine Sauce with lemon and butter
Lots of different fish will do well here – we have used sea bass, cod, halibut … use whatever is fresh and MSC certified. For us tonight that meant a long fillet of Alaska cod, which I cut in half before cooking so it would fit into my skillet without needing to be folded!

Fish fillet (ours was 3/4 pound, because that is a nice dinner for my family – but as long as it fits in your pan anything is fine – you’ll need to adjust your poaching time depending on the thickness of the cut. I have our fish monger remove the skin but you wouldn’t have to if you like it on.)
1 tablespoon butter
2 cups vegetable stock, warmed (I cheat and make mine with Rapunzel brand bouillon)
Juice and zest from one lemon
1/2 cup chardonnay or other white wine
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh garden herbs (tonight, I used lemon thyme, lemon verbena, and a few chives)
1 (more) tablespoon butter

Melt the (first) tablespoon of butter in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Once the pan is warm and the butter melted, add the fish, skin side up, and let it cook for thirty seconds to a minute. Flip it over. Pour the warm vegetable stock into the pan, and simmer the fish to poach it (it should be opaque all the way through – for my cod, which was about 3/4 inch thick, this took only a couple minutes). Remove the fish from the pan and let it rest on a plate. Turn the heat up to high, and let the stock reduce until you have just a half cup or so left in the pan.

While the stock is reducing, chop your herbs and mix them with the lemon zest.

Once the stock is reduced, lower the heat slightly and add the wine and lemon juice. Swirl them around and let everything heat up, and then let it reduce again, so that the sauce thickens and starts to coat your spoon (this will take a few minutes). Once your sauce is looking sauce-like, turn off the heat. Swirl in the (second) tablespoon of butter and about a third of the herb-lemon zest mixture. Keep swirling while the butter melts.

Serve with the remaining herbs spread over top. And lots of crusty bread for sauce-sopping :)

Eating your corn and whey

When you make ricotta, you have something left over called whey. This is purportedly good for baking, and I promised you I’d give it a try one of these days. We have been making a fair amount of ricotta, and I have had a few opportunities to try baking with the whey – as it turns out, two of my favorite attempts have included corn. I don’t know if there is some magical corn-whey alchemy that takes place (like what happens with buckwheat and maple syrup, say, or mushrooms and onions, or butternut squash and sage, or lime and cilantro) – but both of these recipes turned out beautifully when baked with whey.

I think this might be the perfect weekend for you to try making ricotta at home! And while you are enjoying it smeared on toast, or swirled with caramelized onions, or stuffed inside of some whole grain manicotti – while you are doing that, you can make some cornbread. Or some corn waffles. Take your pick.

Just don’t eat your corn and whey sitting on a tuffet, or you might get an unexpected, eight-legged visitor.

Whole Grain Corn-and-Whey Bread
This skillet cornbread is adapted from a recipe in The New York Times Magazine. Sam Sifton adapted it from The East Coast Grill in Cambridge; his changes were a tad controversial online. At our house, we found his addition of whole corn kernels to be brilliant. I saw the gorgeous yellow photo in the magazine, and then saw the bread again when Jess at Sweet Amandine went and took a flying leap with it. And then we had that whey sitting around … I used whey and a touch of cream to get some fat back in the mix. Plain whole milk, as the original calls for, would no doubt also work well. I also added a bit of whole wheat flour to the recipe, because I cannot resist opportunities for more whole grains :)  Two kinds of cornmeal are not necessary, but I had them on hand and they made a nice texture. 

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal, fine grind
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal, medium grind
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups whey
1/4 cup half-and-half
1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 cup melted butter
2 cups organic frozen corn kernels (fresh would surely be great here once they are in season)

Preheat oven to 350 F and oil a 9-inch cast-iron skillet. Put the skillet in the oven to heat up.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, cornmeals, sugar, salt and baking powder. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, whey, cream and oil. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, including the melted butter and the corn. Stir until just mixed.

Remove the hot cast-iron pan from the oven. Pour the batter into it.  Gently bump (or “smack,” per Sam) your pan on your countertop to even the batter out.

Bake for about one hour, until the corn bread is nice and golden-brown and craggy on top and a tester comes out clean. Like Jess, we found that this bread was much better fully cooled. It has a cake-like bite, and a nice sweetness. A little honey (or honey spiked with red chili flakes, per Sam’s recommendation) and a little butter are both terrific. Toasting the cooled bread gives a nice result too.

Crisp-Edged Corn-and-Whey Waffles
 
You might be thinking, wow, these people eat a lot of waffles. Well, we didn’t used to. And we still mostly eat granola for breakfast. But these corn waffles are really nice; they have all the best aspects of cornbread, being crispy and slightly sweet and gently corn-y. Plus they freeze and re-heat really well. I again used they whey-cream combo, but milk would work just as well. Honey is obviously the topping of choice, but these also make a nice savory waffle for piling with sandwich fixings, and you couldn’t go wrong dipping them in chili … I recommend cooking them until not a bit of steam is coming out of your waffle iron, to get a nice crispy crust … like the craggy top of the skillet cornbread above, I suspect you will find the crisp edges to be the best part :) 

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cornmeal (either fine or medium grind, or a combo)
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups whey
1/4 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
Pre-heat your waffle iron so it gets nice and toasty. Whisk together the flours, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a big bowl. In a smaller bowl, mix the eggs, whey and cream together. Mix wet into dry, and then add the melted butter. Mix everything together well. Cook according to your waffle iron’s directions – see head note about letting it stop steaming.  If you plan to freeze them and toast them again later, you don’t need to make the initial bake quite as ‘toasty’.
We got 14 Belgian-style waffles from this batter.

Four months and nineteen days later

Mark Bittman’s version of Yotam Ottolenghi’s Leek and Cardamom fritter recipe, published in the New York Times Magazine, has been on my fridge since December 4th 2011. I don’t keep things on my fridge, period, so this should tell you something. Well, I guess it actually tells you two things. One, I don’t always get to the recipes that I mean to. And two, I really, really wanted to make those fritters!

In January I got close – I bought what I thought were all the ingredients, only to find that we were out of cardamom. I could probably have made do around any other missing ingredient, but that wasn’t going to fly. So the next week I bought a little packet of ground cardamom, but then we had a birthday brunch to host, and then I was doing a lot of bread baking, and then fritters started sounded really maybe more like mid-winter holiday food, while I was busy trying to force the arrival of spring.

Well, leeks are perfect spring food, and I should have remembered that sooner. Tonight, I finally made the fritters, sort of. The recipe was pretty heavily modified with the kids and my limited dinner prep time in mind, but I think it has the same heart. I am hanging on to the original recipe, and some day when we are having company I will make it as written, using the Thai chili and beating the egg white and probably making a sweet-spicy dipping sauce of some sort.

We added a couple of cups of diced sweet potato to make them into our main course and make them more kid-friendly. I didn’t increase the spices we used, so I imagine the original recipe has an even more explosive taste – but these had plenty of appealingly strong flavor. They were hearty, and had that certain something that makes you want more and more. Kyle also noted that they were surprisingly moist and tender for being fried. The leeks brought a nice, sweet, caramelized flavor. The mix of spices had us contemplating the flavor profile in the best kind of way (Kyle: “It’s kind of Indian tasting. Or kind of Moroccan maybe? Or maybe like latkes?” – now doesn’t that sound like something delicious, no matter what it may be?)

We dipped them in plain yogurt, which was nice. Jacob dipped them in ketchup, which was annoying, but he sees fried potato, and no matter what else is mixed with that fried potato, he thinks he needs ketchup. I guess I should just be thankful that he eats whatever we serve! :)   I thought we would have a few leftover and was looking forward to seeing if they would reheat for breakfast, but Kyle finished them. Next time.

(Ottolenghi’s book Plenty is terrific, by the way, but I am figuring you all know that and don’t need me to tell you!)

Sweet Potato, Leek, and Cardamom Fritters
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s version of Yotam Ottolenghi’s Leek-and-Cardamom Fritter recipe as it appeared in the New York Times Magazine, December 4th 2011

2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons butter
4 leeks, thickly sliced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups peeled and diced Hannah Yam (sweet potato)
2/3 cup fresh cilantro (leaves and fine stems), finely chopped
3 ounces mild goat cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs
1/2 cup plain yogurt (not Greek – this is replacing milk, so I used the runnier kind of whole milk yogurt)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Additional canola oil for frying

Put the first two tablespoons of canola oil and the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Once it is hot, add the leeks. Cook, stirring, until they are softened, about ten minutes. Add the spices and continue to cook for five minutes more.

While that is cooking, mix the sweet potato, cilantro, goat cheese, and salt together in a large bowl. Once the leeks and spices are done cooking, pour them into the bowl and mix everything gently, until well combined.

In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, eggs and yogurt until combined. Add the melted butter, and mix until you have a very smooth batter. Gently fold the batter into the leek and sweet potato mixture.

Put about two tablespoons of oil into your skillet (use the same one) and heat over medium heat. Once it is hot, use a quarter cup measuring cup to scoop four pools of batter into your pan (like making pancakes). Cook until golden brown (a minute or two) then flip, and cook a couple minutes more until cooked through.

Drain on paper towels, and then eat warm (the original recipe suggests keeping them warm in a 200 degree oven while you cook the remaining fritters, but I just sent Kyle and the guys to the table with the first batch and then finished up cooking them – it didn’t take too long).

This made 12 fritters. We served them with plain yogurt, and found them to be well worth the four month and twenty day wait :)